After you’ve been freelancing for a few years, you generally get a clear idea of who makes a good client.
You may have things very narrowed down, to the point that you can cite industry and demographic information, or you may have a broader idea, but you’ve probably got enough of a feel for prospective clients that you can identify who’s a good fit by looking at their website or talking to them at a networking event.
But what do you do once you notice a good prospect? There are plenty of things you can do to get on someone’s radar, but if they don’t already have a project in mind, they aren’t likely to become clients.
If you can keep track of potential clients who you may want to work with in the future, though, you can come back and check in with them on a regular basis, both as their businesses evolve and as you have opportunities to take on more work.
Selecting Who to Track
Your ideal client may evolve over time, so it’s a good idea to sit down and write out what characteristics you’re looking for now. As things change, you can revisit your description and quickly clear out prospects you’re tracking who no longer fit your criteria. It’s often easiest to just lay out a set of bullet points, rather than trying to write a lengthy article about who you want to work with and why.
Only track potential clients you truly want to work with.
As you encounter people and organizations that fit your description, you’ll be able to identify them faster. That doesn’t mean that every single organization that fits your description should automatically be added to your list of potential clients to keep an eye on, however. If there is even a slight vibe that makes you feel a little uneasy about working with someone, don’t bother keeping track of him. Only track potential clients you truly want to work with.
Most of us don’t have any problem finding clients we don’t get excited about, so why bother looking for more?
Creating a Tracking System
If you use any sort of client relationship management (CRM) tool, you may find that you already have a system to fit your needs. Provided you can tag contacts within the system with a label that shows that you’re still just in the tracking stages, you can load all the information you have about an organization or an individual into your system and schedule times to check back.
It’s possible to replicate most of the options inherent in a CRM with some more basic tools, although you’ll probably have to do a bit more by hand. You can set up a tracking system with nothing more than a spreadsheet, if that’s what you have available. Another option is address book software. It’s probably not a good idea to try to manage this sort of ongoing project with just paper and pencil these days, though.
The key fields you’ll likely need to create and fill in include:
- The organization’s details, such as location or relevant products.
- Your contact at the organization (someone specific you can build a relationship with).
- Where information about the organization is published (such as a company blog or social media accounts).
- Details about how the organization handles working with freelancers, if you can get them.
- Plenty of room for notes, so that you can track each and every interaction you have.
Depending on your own preferences, you can go a lot deeper. You can include all sorts of details. But it’s crucial that your tracking system be something you can easily keep up with. Otherwise, going through and checking on your prospects’ statuses will become a major chore — something to be avoided, rather than maintained. The easier you can make your system, the more likely you are to keep up with it.
Try to nail down the system you’re going to use before you invest much time in finding prospects to track. If you have to change the tools you’re using, you can wind up with a really time-intensive data entry project on your hands.
Looking for Updates From Your Prospects
You can and you should continue to contact the organizations you’d like to work with based on your own schedule. But if you can contact someone right when they need a freelancer, you may put yourself far ahead of the competition. That means keeping track of updates from the organization, as well as the people at that organization involved in finding freelancers.
With a little practice, you can get to the point where you can skim through a bunch of updates quickly, looking only for requests for proposals, mentions of new initiatives and the like.
The fastest solution I’ve found is to create a folder within a RSS reader and send as many different feeds as possible into that spot: blog postings, news feeds about the company, social media updates and so on. With a little practice, you can get to the point where you can skim through a bunch of updates quickly, looking only for requests for proposals, mentions of new initiatives and the like.
It’s something that you can catch up on when you have time, like waiting in line or during commercials. If you get behind, never be afraid to mark all those updates as read, because if they’re too old, they won’t be useful to you.
It’s also worthwhile to focus on the personal channels of some of the individuals who are specifically responsible for finding freelancers for a particular organization. It’s surprisingly common for people to put out requests for recommendations for freelancers on their Twitter accounts or other social media profiles.
It’s generally a good idea to connect with them on those social networks early on, if only so it doesn’t seem like you’re following them too closely for their comfort. Such connections can also make it a lot easier to follow up regularly on your end, as well.
Your Options for Following Up
No one wants to be that freelancer who is begging for work. Looking even a little desperate can make it harder to convince a prospective client that you’re great. So, as you follow up regularly with those potential clients you’d like to win over, it’s important to exercise a little subtlety.
Unless someone has specifically suggested that you check back at a particular time to discuss a potential project, try to treat your contacts more as business friends — people who you want to succeed and who you’re happy to send information along to to help them in that direction.
Depending on the sales funnel you’ve created for your freelance business, you may already have a white paper, infographic, or other piece of material that is easy to email to a prospect as you connect with them. Even if you don’t have anything informational you’ve created yourself, you may have access to other resources.
It can be incredibly hard to find excuses to check in with someone. It’s a good idea to take a look at their social media accounts and see if they’ve posted something recently that you can discuss or help them with.
If they’re in business, most of your contacts will know that you want to stay in touch because you see an opportunity to work together — most people won’t mind, as long as your methods of staying in touch don’t overwhelm them and don’t come off as begging for work. Being as helpful as possible is the best option to stand out for someone who may get regular emails from several freelancers.
Schedule Time to Track
If you’re going to seriously commit to keeping up with the potential clients who you’d like to work with, you need to make it a part of your regular routine.
You need to schedule time for adding new prospects to your system, as well as remove prospects who have actually brought you work or no longer fit what you’re looking for. You need to schedule time for following up with the different organizations you’re following. You need to schedule time to research anyone you’re considering contacting.
All of that does mean a serious time commitment. While some parts can be handled in between your other obligations, the rest require you to set aside time each month to actually work through the load. It can be tempting to procrastinate on this sort of work when you’ve got a full load of clients, but by keeping up on it, you’re reducing the number and length of dry spells you might otherwise encounter.
Block out the time on your calendar each month, along with your other marketing efforts, and make sure that you’re getting through to the people who can use your skills.
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